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BT lands 'major' air traffic control deal

UK incumbent BT has been chosen to upgrade air traffic services provider NATS's data networks.

Nick Wood

August 15, 2023

3 Min Read
BT logo building

UK incumbent BT has been chosen to upgrade air traffic services provider NATS’s data networks.

The agreement covers the consolidation and modernisation of NATS’s critical data infrastructure across its sites.

These comprise its two air traffic control (ATC) facilities – one in Prestwick, Scotland, the other in Swanwick near London. Together, they handle on average more than 7,500 flights every day. They also monitor 1.1 million km² of airspace over England, Scotland and Wales, and 2.2 million km² of airspace over the North Atlantic. NATS also has a corporate and technical centre, which includes a college and training facility, in Whiteley in the south of England.

In addition to operating its own facilities, NATS provides ATC services to 15 UK control towers, plus another two, one in Gibraltar, the other in Hong Kong.

As well as serving airports and airlines, its customers also include the government and military. And its 4,227-strong workforce includes 1,652 air traffic controllers and 780 engineers.

The UK government is NATS’s biggest single shareholder, controlling 49%, and includes a golden share. The next largest is a consortium comprised of airlines, a pension fund, and the Pension Protection Fund, which holds 42%.

In short, it’s a big operation, that comes with a huge amount of responsibility, and is owned by some very important people.

Understandably then, BT describes its selection by NATS for its modernisation programme as a major deal. In addition to the network upgrade, the telco will also develop and implement enhanced cybersecurity capabilities for NATS, including a central coordination point for what it calls ‘cyber resilience’.

“Secure, high-bandwidth connectivity is essential in keeping the UK’s air traffic moving in the future – so after many years of building world-class networks and cyber security for providers of critical national infrastructure, we are looking forward to delivering this now for NATS,” said Andy Rowe, BT’s director of central government, in a statement.

“Under the partnership we will be responsible for both network provision and cyber security within the NATS strategic supplier ecosystem, and will be embarking on consolidating and modernising the entire network to build a world-class digital infrastructure that is fit for the future of air traffic management,” he said.

Indeed, the air travel industry is under pressure to maintain and improve safety, optimise capacity, and by extension reduce its environmental impact.

For its part, NATS is working on improving air traffic management (ATM) so planes spend less time in holding patterns above airports, which in turn will reduce fuel consumption and noise pollution. This involves upgrades to its software and the infrastructure it runs on. It is also working out how to enable the safe integration of new aircraft, like drones, so they can operate safely in the same airspace as planes and helicopters.

“NATS is implementing a truly transformational technology programme to keep the skies safe and support our customers worldwide, so it is vital we have BT as industry leaders alongside us,” said Tim Bullock, director of supply chain and facilities management at NATS. “We select organisations at the top of their game technically, to join our collaborative ecosystem of partners. I’m delighted with the partnership we have formed and look forward to working together for many years to come to deliver great solutions for our customers.”


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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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